Cover image for An American health dilemma : a medical history of African Americans and the problem of race
An American health dilemma : a medical history of African Americans and the problem of race
Byrd, W. Michael.
Personal Author:
Physical Description:
volumes <1- > : illustrations ; 24 cm
v. 1. Beginnings to 1900 -- v. 2. Race, medicine, and health care in the United States, 1900-2000.
Reading Level:
1560 Lexile.
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
RA448.5.N4 B97 2000 V.1 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
RA448.5.N4 B97 2000 V.1 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating
RA448.5.N4 B97 2000 V.2 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
RA448.5.N4 B97 2000 V.2 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating
RA448.5.N4 B97 2000 V.2 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



At times mirroring and at times shockingly disparate to the rise of traditional white American medicine, the history of African-American health care is a story of traditional healers; root doctors; granny midwives; underappreciated and overworked African-American physicians; scrupulous and unscrupulous white doctors and scientists; governmental support and neglect; epidemics; and poverty. Virtually every part of this story revolves around race. More than 50 years after the publication of An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal's 1944 classic about race relations in the USA, An American Health Dilemma presents a comprehensive and groundbreaking history and social analysis of race, race relations and the African-American medical and public health experience. Beginning with the origins of western medicine and science in Egypt, Greece and Rome the authors explore the relationship between race, medicine, and health care from the precursors of American science and medicine through the days of the slave trade with the harrowing middle passage and equally deadly breaking-in period through the Civil War and the gains of reconstruction and the reversals caused by Jim Crow laws. It offers an extensive examination of the history of intellectual and scientific racism that evolved to give sanction to the mistreatment, medical abuse, and neglect of African Americans and other non-white people. Also included are biographical portraits of black medical pioneers like James McCune Smith, the first African American to earn a degree from a European university, and anecdotal vignettes,like the tragic story of "the Hottentot Venus", which illustrate larger themes.

An American Health Dilemma promises to become an irreplaceable and essential look at African-American and medical history and will provide an invaluable baseline for future exploration of race and racism in the American health system.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the first of a projected two-volume work, the authors, both physicians and senior research scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health, document how, from their first arrival on these shores, blacks received inferior health care. Slaves faced a multitude of health risks: among them were accidents, whippings, cold, heat, exhaustion (pregnant slaves often miscarried) and poor sanitation. Planters rarely summoned white physicians to treat their slaves; generally, black grannies, midwives, root doctors and healers cared for their people. African-American health got worse during and after the Civil War, when the imperfect plantation health care system vanished overnight. A racist postwar society used Darwinism, biological determinism and skull measurements to argue that African-Americans were destined to poor health and extinction. In response, led by pioneering black doctors like James McCune Smith and David John Peck, African-Americans built their own medical schools and hospitals. Black physicians became community leaders and proclaimed health care a civil right. Still, at century's end, African-Americans were segregated and excluded from the mainstream health system. This is an important book, but it is not a well-organized, well-written work of history. The authors attempt to pack several books under one cover: a history of racism over the last 2,000 years; a survey of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arabian medicine; an indictment of the U.S. health care system and of modern America as a hopelessly racist land; and a book of political advocacy and reform. The best part of this volume is its last half, containing the actual history of African-American health from 1619 forward. The dense, stilted, academic prose style serves the authors poorly, but their book contains too much valuable information to ignore. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Byrd and his wife, Clayton, are affiliated with Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. Their book, the first of two volumes, presents current statistics on racial disparities in American healthcare as a prolog to a comprehensive and heavily documented history of healthcare by and for black Americans. The authors trace the history of African American medicine, from its traditional roots in Egyptian and sub-Saharan practices that were brought to the New World by slave healers and midwives, through the remarkable black doctors who broke the color line of 19th-century medicine, to the founding of Howard University's Medical School in 1867, and the beginning of its long and distinguished service to American medicine. This amazing story takes place, however, in the context of a parallel narrative outlining the appalling cruelty, neglect, and scientific racism that mark the medical history of the American slave trade and its post-Civil War aftermath. This path-breaking work and its future companion volume will long remain an essential reference for scholars and serious readers in both medical history and African American studies.DKathy Arsenault, Univ. of South Florida, St. Petersburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Byrd and Clayton's study of the medical history of African Americans and the history of race is probably the most comprehensive study of its kind ever undertaken. The authors, both African American physicians affiliated with Harvard University and motivated by observations in their own practice, have compiled a detailed study of the impact of race on culture and health care from the Renaissance era until 1900, documented through extensive notes and bibliography. This historical study has built on works published since the mid-20th century, but their exploration documents the origin of the word "race" and how it has influenced the lives of people of all races. It will serve as a comprehensive reference for historians, health professionals, policy makers, and medical ethicists interested in improving the quality of health care and expanding opportunities for medical education for all races. A truly remarkable piece of work, to be followed by a second volume discussing the health dilemma as it continued through the 20th century. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. V. B. Byers; emeritus, SUNY Upstate Medical University

Table of Contents

Part I The Background
Chapter One Race, Biology, and Health Care in the United States: Reassessing a Relationship
Chapter Two Black Health in the Pre-Colonial Period
Chapter Three Black Health in the North American English Colonies, 1619 to 1731
Chapter Four Black Health in the Republican Era, 1731-1812
Chapter Five Black Health in the Jacksonian Period, 1812-1861
Chapter Six The Civil War, Reconstruction, and Post-Reconstruction and Black Health, 1861-1900
Conclusion: Laying the Foundations of a Dual and Unequal Health System Notes
Selected Bibliography
Notes on Sources Index